What Happens When Hair Is Wet, Anyway?
You know that thing when your hair seems a little longer when wet? There’s some science behind that phenomenon. The hair’s cortex is made up of keratin fibers and temporary bonds that are scattered in different patterns to create various hair textures. These hydrogen-based bonds break as soon as water touches strands and that causes hair to unfold and elongate. Don’t worry, though! Those bonds come back as hair dries.
Those with thicker and curlier hair, or those with damaged strands, might notice their hair takes longer to dry. That’s because hair is more porous, trapping water and keeping things damp, whereas hair that’s straight or hair that’s undamaged dries quicker.
Use the Right Products
Damp hair is a welcoming ground for your nutrient-rich and protective products. Hair fibers swell when wet and your hair’s diameter increases by 10 to 20 percent, depending on the texture. Once open, your strands soak up a lot more active ingredients, especially if the formula is hydrophilic a.k.a. water-loving. The best products to use are leave-in conditioners, styling creams, volumizing sprays, lightweight gels, mousse, and heat or UV-ray protectors. Hair sprays and dry shampoo don’t mesh well with damp strands.
Be Careful When Handling Wet Hair
Use those malleable, fragile wet strands to your styling advantage, but, be gentle. (As mentioned, there are weak bonds that break more easily, making it less strong than when it’s dry.) The good news is that detangling becomes a much easier process. The tricky part is that combing or brushing wet hair can cause further breakage, so be sure to detangle with caution. First, coat hair with a leave-in treatment or detangling spray for some protection. Then, start combing at the ends rather than from your roots to avoid aggressive tugging.
When Possible, Let Your Hair Air Dry
Once you’ve detangled and conditioned your hair, prep your air-dried style according to your hair type. Read below for a few pointers.
Straight: Since your hair doesn’t have a ton of texture, you can get away with skipping the usual products you would use for say, a blow out. Instead, let your hair dry and then add a lightweight oil from mid-shaft to ends for healthy shine.
Wavy to Curly: When you want to wear your hair natural, use products that will hydrate your hair and keep the cuticle down, such as a light curl cream or even your go-to blow dry cream (only, no dryer required!). Use a twisting motion with your fingers to apply these formulas instead of just running them through your strands. Then, scrunch out excess water with a microfiber towel or old T-shirt. If there’s frizz after your hair dries, add a lightweight smoothing serum to the target areas and you’re good to go.
Coily: It’s commonplace to worry about shrinkage when doing a wash and go, but let’s change this narrative fast: shrinkage is a good thing! Yes, seriously. Shrinkage is an indicator of healthy hair. When it’s stringy and incapable of coiling back up, there’s some type of damage going on. Remember, the most important thing you want to do is pack your hair with moisturizer. Prep with a leave-in conditioner, especially ones with hydrating ingredients that lock in hydration, such as aloe, coconut, or jojoba oil. Then, for added definition, mix a little of your curl cream with a gel (depending on your hair type) in your hands and style by twisting strands, finger combing, braiding, or whatever you desire. This can help elongate the curl to curb some of that good shrinkage.
Choosing the right ingredients in-shower can help prep your strands for post-wash styling. Learn which ingredients are custom-picked for your hair here.